Art Seen

100 Homeless People Were Given Disposable Cameras. These Are Some Of The Photos They Took With Them.

"The simple act of taking photos can really empower people every year."

Since 2013, an annual photography project has been held in London to empower people affected by homelessness and show the public some of their creative skills. The MyLondon project is run by Cafe Art, an organization that aims to connect people affected by homelessness with art. The organization hands out 100 or more disposable cameras at St Paul's Cathedral in London and asks participants not to focus on homelessness, but to capture the parts of London they love.

The best photos are later selected to be featured in a calendar, an exhibition, or both. We previously featured the 2015 and 2016 winning photos on A Plus, and we're excited to see the project continue this year

"The project is about empowering the participants and drawing a focus to homelessness in a way that tries to give the photographers dignity," Paul Ryan, director of Cafe Art, told A Plus. "We are a small project and most of the money goes into printing the calendar. Profits go to the participants. We pay for the printing by doing a Kickstarter." 


Whether they win the contest or not, the project gives people affected by homelessness the opportunity to learn new skills. They're taught basic photography skills, people skills, and basic sales skills. They're also offered the opportunity to join a mentoring group that teaches them more about cameras.

Ryan has seen the impact this project can have on the community. "I have learned that this project works on many levels," he said. "Photography skills, helping people express themselves, and helping people earn extra cash are three of the most important, but the simple act of taking photos can really empower people every year." 

He's seen firsthand how participants look forward to it year after year, as well as how new participants react the opportunity. "As the London participants who have done it again participate, there is more excitement every year — taking shots that they have planned for months," Ryan said. "The reaction from new participants is often the same — joy at being recognized for their skills." 

He hopes the MyLondon project, which has now been replicated in other cities around the world such as Sydney, Budapest, and New Orleans, will help both participants and people who see the photos. 

"I hope participants can learn skills that will help them move on or even survive in London. With homelessness at record levels, some of the participants are still sleeping rough. By having a passion for photography or art they can focus on something positive," Ryan said. "I hope that the public can relate to the individual stories when they buy the calendar. The pictures are beautiful but the stories can often give insights into the homeless peoples' lives if they choose to share their stories."

Below are the photos you'll find in the 2018 calendar and their captions. To see more from this year's project, check out Cafe Art's website

1. "Shadow Play" by Ella Sullivan

"This photo was taken in Hemingford Road Islington whilst I was out for a walk with my daughter on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I happened to have a red balloon in my bag so I blew it up whilst I found an amazing shadow of my girl on the wall with it. I loved the optical illusion that it created of her holding the balloon," Sullivan said. 

2. "Canary Wharf Station" by Karina

"I wanted to capture the stillness on the escalator before they enter the fast pace outside. Bankers, tourists and the homeless on their daily routine," Karina said. "In school, I was bullied which interfered with a lot of my education. Things were disruptive at home. I got removed from home at 14 and by 15 I was homeless. I ended up in shelters and never got permanent accommodations. Then I got help and was able to stay in a shelter. Sometimes we can get knocked off our path. We cannot stay down. We need to keep moving forward." 

3. "East Ender" by Louise Danby

"This is Mick Taylor, known as 'Teapot,' 'Little Harvey' and more nicknames," Danby said. "Lots of people know him as he's been around a bit. People had thought he was dead so I took a photo of him in front of this mural on Brick Lane!"

4. "Dip in the Thames" by Husna

"Husna was cycling along with a friend when they discovered this swimming area," according to Cafe Art. 

5. "Commuters" by Michelle Goldberg

"I'm a Londoner. I was born here. My family has been here four generations, possibly five. My grandparents were in the markets," Goldberg said. "My background is in the Arts. I did my bachelors' at Kingston School of Art and then I worked for a year in the West End and then I went to the Royal College of Art in Kensington — Fashion Department … I grew up in the industry. There were factories all over London which are now very expensive flats and everything is made outside of the country so we have lost a really important creative industry. London's a really wonderful, colorful, inspiring, creative place for people. This project is kind of bringing back some of that spirit of London, albeit in an ironic situation."

6. "Tower Bridge Reflection" by Christopher McTavish

"My photography is full of reflections and shadows. It was nice to see the view that the mayor of London has," McTavish said. 

7. "Camden Town Punks" by Jackie Cook

"They were happy to pose for the camera. While not as common as they used to be, you can still see punks around Camden Town most weekends, especially when it's hot," Cook said. "It's important to share what people have given to you and never forget where you come from. Never ever look down on anybody unless you're picking them up ... I love London. It' a cosmopolitan city with a lot of culture. I like taking pictures, especially in my favorite haunts, Alexandra Palace and Hampstead Heath."

8. "London View" by David Fussell

"Right in front of me was a frame within a frame within a frame," Fussell said. 

9. "Trackside" by Hugh Gary

"I visited London Bridge to take a photo of the platform, turned around and seen the full length of the shard and thought the line of the platform canopy merges perfectly with the building," Gary said. 

10. "Hackney Sax" by Maya Simeon

"I've always been a fan of street art in London and since I was a teen this mural has been one of my favorites. Created by Ray Walker in 1985, it was painted to promote peace and unity, while making a statement against nuclear weapons," Simeon said. "Being able to combine my love of music and street art in photography is really cool. I met Tashomi around 10 years ago at a gig, so when I had the idea for this shot, he came to mind. I asked him to play his sax while taking the pictures, which meant we attracted some attention."

11. "Angel Boy" by Maya Simeon

"My model is Jonathan, the son of two of my best friends. He's five years old. It's such a sweet age: full of curiosity and still so innocent," Simeon said. "You hear that old adage never work with kids, but because he's my little buddy, making him smile and laugh for the photo wasn't an issue. I had a vision for capturing this spot, but when we arrived I realized he wasn't tall enough to fit the wings, so had to find something to add a bit of height. I asked around eventually managed to borrow this mini step ladder which was perfect." 

12. "London Icons" by Tim Clark

"There's something about red: red boxes, red buses. I kept thinking about London being red … I saw a guy called Jon with a bike standing behind the phone box and I asked him if he wouldn't mind standing in it for this shot," Clark said. 

13. "French Bulldog" by Ella Sullivan

"There was a doggie dress up contest," Sullivan said. "I went across and took some shots of the dogs I liked, including Ace who seemed to be posing." 

Cafe Art has set up a Kickstarter to help raise money for the calendar. You can watch their Kickstarter video about the project below:


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